By Vincent Delforge, Special to Kickin’ the Tires
This Friday, March 10, the General Tire 150, the first race of the season in the ARCA Menards West Series, which was also the second in the national championship, saw the victory of a young driver of 15-years-old, Tyler Reif. A victory that owes nothing to luck, quite the contrary.
The younger of the two Reif brothers entered in the West Series for the year had to show self-sacrifice when he found himself two laps behind the leader following a spin at the very start of the race. But his speed was such that he methodically got back on the heels of leader William Salawich before taking advantage of the confusion at the end of the race, prolonged by two overtimes, to make the final overtake on the last lap over Landen Lewis to claim his first victory. just in his third career start.
Finally with Ryan Roulette’s withdrawal, there were 32 drivers to take part in this first meeting of the year in the West Series. Unsurprisingly, we found the best drivers of the national series at the forefront from the start of the practice. But many West regulars were also showing they had the right pace.
Starting with Tyler Reif, who took the best time at the end of the session by 0.009 seconds ahead of Jesse Love. Salawich, Bradley Erickson and Sean Hingorani completing the top-five. A disturbed session for R.J. Smotherman following a clutch problem. But that was nothing compared to the misadventure of Bryce Haugeberg crashing hard. His car being destroyed and without a backup car, he will not be able to take part in the race.
During the qualifying session, it was William Salawich who took pole position for his very first career race. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver who we had just learned he had signed a three-year contract with the team. Two years in ARCA and the third year in Xfinity Series. This must have over-motivated him as he took pole in 27.153 sec (132.582 mph) or 590 thousandths ahead of REV Racing driver Jack Wood. Jesse Love (Venturini Motorsports) and Tyler Reif (Lowden-Jackson Motorsports) being on the second row. Note the ninth position of Toni Breidinger (Venturini) and the 14th for the winner of Daytona Greg Van Alst.
Once the pace car entered the pitlane, the 31 drivers at the start, led by Salawich, scattered on either side of the dog leg towards the first corner. Excellent start from Tyler Reif who took second position. The field was just beginning to stretch when rookie Fankie Muniz, trying to pass Trevor Huddleston on the inside, spun off. Luckily for him, Muniz managed to avoid contact with the inside wall. This yellow flag will not be the last, far from it!
At the restart Salawich contains Jesse Love while behind them, there are several fights in 4-wide!
A theatrical action on lap 11 when Sean Hingorani dives on the inside of Turn 3 to overtake third-placed Tyler Reif. The two young drivers touch each other. Reif, after hitting the wall from behind, heads for his pit box to repair but despite an excellent job by his team, he will lose two laps in his misadventure. The free pass is for Ethan Nascimento, 31st and last, who has had problems with his car since the start of the day.
The restart is a carbon copy of the previous one with Salawich in front of Love. A.J. Moyer spins three laps later. This new caution which arrives so quickly allows Tyler Reif, the only driver out of the leader lap at that time, to come back from two laps to one lap behind the leaders.
The top-five for this restart is made up of Salawich, Love, Hingorani, Andres Perez de Lara and Leland Honeyman. However Salawich’s first position is disputed by Love. The two men are side by side entering the third turn on lap 24. The 16-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver is a little wide and carries the former 2020-2021 double West Series champion to the outside line. Honeyman took the opportunity to take the lead of the race by driving as far inside the track as possible.
RJ Smotherman, Tyler Reif’s teammate, retired on lap 26, his clutch problems becoming insurmountable. He is the third to park his car in garages after Tim Monroe and Brad Smith.
The fourth yellow arrives on the 40th lap following a new spun from A.J. Moyer. Bobby Hillis, Jr. then 22nd receives the free pass. Jesse Love takes command on Honeyman as soon as the green flag is waved. Salawich is third ahead of Jack Wood, who had to start the race from the rear, takes fourth position over Bradley Erickson. The rest of the top 10 is made up of Perez de Lara, Conner Jones, Greg Van Alst, Toni Breidinger and Landen Lewis.
It was just before the end of the first third of the race that the fifth yellow was brandished following a spun from Christian Rose. Todd Souza, 22nd, is the beneficiary of the free pass.
Love leads the restart ahead of Honeyman and Wood. In the 55th lap Salawich relies on Honeyman at the entrance of turn 3 and luckily spun without touching anything. This new yellow allows Tyler Reif to return to the leader’s lap.
Love leads ahead of Jones during the restart. Note that for having cut too early inside the dog leg before the start/finish line, Perez de Lara and Honeyman receive a pass-thru penalty which will make them lose a lap on the leaders.
The next yellow flag marks the halfway mark. Everyone heads into the pitlane to make adjustments or repairs if necessary. At the end of the regulation five minutes, return under yellow flags for the second part of the race.
The top-10 for the restart are: Love, Wood, Jones, Erickson, Salawich, Lewis, Van Alst, Muniz, Souza and Breidinger.
The restart will turn into a disaster for Venturini Motorsports. Indeed Jones dives between Salawich who is inside and Wood. Jones rams Wood and sends him into a spun, taking Love against the outside wall. The crash is violent. Erickson narrowly manages to avoid the crash. Billy Venturini can’t believe his eyes… Love has to give up just like Wood. All this benefits Salawich who recovers the first position. Perez de Lara, 21st receives the free pass.
At the restart Salawich is ahead of Van Alst, Erickson, Lewis, Souza, Muniz, Breidinger, Tyler Reif who continues his good comeback, Kyle Keller and Tanner Reif.
The JGR driver widens the gap on Van Alst. Behind Reif and Jones return to the top-five. And it take less than 10 laps tfor them o get back on the virtual podium.
And 10! New caution in the 119th lap when A.J. Moyer does what he knows best, which is to say a spun. The third in the race! At the restart Salawich was overtaken by Tyler Reif but the driver of the Toyota No. 18 regained control on the following lap. Two laps later, when he was in the top 20, Hillis, Jr. stopped on the track following a fuel pump problem. It is Honeyman who receives the free pass.
Salawich did not miss its restart 18 laps from the end and contained Tyler Reif, Jones, Erickson and Van Alst. The latter will be involved in the 11th yellow flag when Perez de Lara tries to pass him inside turn 3 and goes in spun. The free pass is for Christian Rose, in 14th position.
There are only five laps left when the restart is given with Salawich leading ahead of Tyler Reif, Jones, Erickson, Van Alst, Lewis, Breidinger, Souza, Keller and Muniz.
But two laps later Rose who is hot as embers pushes Breidinger, at the end of the backstretch. The shock against the wall for the young woman is violent. Honeyman and D.L. Wilson are the collateral victims of this accident. Luckily, everyone came out uninjured. The red flag was waved on lap 149 to clear the track. It will last 18 minutes and 6 seconds. Huddleston gets the free pass. And it is towards an overtime that we are heading.
The restart takes place on lap 155 and Salawich is pushed slightly by Erickson by cutting the dog leg. Takuma Koga is hit by Salawich when the latter goes back on the track in reverse within the pack. Reif, who was on the outside at the restart, was able to avoid problems and found himself in the lead. Koga, 14th at that time was the first driver at one lap but cannot benefit from the free pass because he has to retire.
The second overtime will offer us a finale worthy of a Hollywood film. Landen Lewis takes an incredible flight from the outside line. At the limit of the jumped restart! He takes command while at the same time Tyler Reif, the leader, misses by shifting into gear and is also overtaken by Bradley Erickson. But right out of turn 2 Erickson and Tyler Reif make the connection with Lewis. Reif took the opportunity to regain second position on Erickson with a superb passing from the inside at the end of the backstretch.
Tyler Reif doesn’t stop there as he dives inside Lewis on the exit of Turn 2 on the final lap. The two young drivers cover the whole backstretch side by side but Reif is on his favorite line, the inside line, and manages to regain the lead with two corners to go. The driver of Lowden-Jackson Motorsports Ford No. 41 passes under the checkered flag as the winner. Landen Lewis is second ahead of Erickson, Perez de Lara and Kyle Keller for the top-five. Muniz, Jones, Honeyman, Huddleston and Van Aslt complete the top-10.
After a superb burn out, Tyler Reif climbs on the roof of his car to let his joy burst. He gets the checkered flag, his first in his career, but certainly not the last.
“I mean, the whole race was happiest of my life, maddest of my life, saddest of my life,” Reif said. “It was the craziest race I’ve ever been in. I was just cruising the first 20 laps, found my position third, cruising saving the tires, just chilling out, racing incident got into another car trying to pass me being aggressive on lap fifteen. It is what it is. Spun out, went two laps down because slid into the wall. We had to fix the car and then did my didn’t get my two laps down til like right before the half so only had seventy-five laps to go from the back to front. We just made it happen.”
And he continues: “I mean there’s no word to describe it to be honest. I’m running full West to full East. I’m pretty sure I’m the first ever 15 year old to win Phoenix. I’m pretty sure I’m the first ever West car to win Phoenix so I’m pretty sure it’s history for ARCA so it is literally unreal.
“I mean, it’s amazing. Tanner pushes me better. I push him to be better. I mean, I don’t think we’d be this good without each other. I mean you know, though love. Brothers I think he races me a little harder but it’s definitely good for me. So it’s always nice racing with the brother and then sometimes he’s mad at me won’t talk to me all the time or sometimes we’ll be partying all the way back so.”
Chris Lowden, co-owner of the team said: “Hard work seems to pay off, gave a great driver a rocket, everyone kept their cool thru the bad luck, amazing.”
In the championship standing, it is necessarily the same as the race results. The next West Series race on April 1 in Irwindale, CA for the NAPA Auto Parts 150.
Don’t miss this Wednesday the next article ‘Teams reactions and analysis’ which will go into detail on the statistics and briefly recap the race for each driver.
Complete race results: www.racing-reference.info/race-results/2023-01/AW/
Driver & owner standings: www.racing-reference.info/standings/2023/AW/